The Phanatic Magazine continues its preseason coverage of the Phillies, profiling one player per day to get you set for the 2007 campaign. Our 35 straight days of Phillies coverage kicked off on February 25th, and will continue to roll until Opening Day on April 2nd. Then we will hand it over to Michael Rushton, who will provide an in-depth season preview before the first pitch is dealt.
By Jared Trexler
The Phanatic Magazine
Day 34 - Chase Utley
Chase Utley is likely good enough -- as in grand slam in his first big league start, a .290 career average and a 35-game hitting streak during 2006 -- to warrant a personal screening of An Inconvenient Truth.
The star second baseman may have found his purpose in every word and stunning shot of former Vice President Al Gore's Academy Award winning film.
So much so, that he joined the virtual protest against global warming on http://www.stopglobalwarming.com/. Of course, he also managed to find time for a wedding and a new contract in the offseason -- tying the two together in holy matrimony.
One day after tying the knot with UCLA alum Jennifer Cooper (far right), Utley joined in unison with the Phillies on a new seven-year, $85 million contract.
Regretfully, The Phanatic Magazine couldn't obtain any video from that kickin' honeymoon because I don't think couples normally register for $85 million big ones.
Now, Utley and the Phillies are a partnership for the rest of his baseball life -- leading him well past his prime to the veteran age of 35.
"My plan is to stay a Phillie for life," said Utley, a rare phrase uttered among stars of this city's major sports franchises. "There aren't too many young players who get this kind of security so early in their careers."
The security came from a first two full years to remember -- filled with home runs, head-first slides and an attitude remarkably similar to this city's over-arching dynamic.
"He's a player other organizations dream about having," said assistant general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. The dream became a reality when the Phillies bent from one of general manager Pat Gillick's hard-line stances -- no-trade clauses. The club handed Utley a limited no-trade clause, weighing his talent far more than management principle.
The Southern Californian's big break occurred in June 2005 when the club sent Placido Polanco to Detroit for bullpen arm Ugueth Urbina and infielder Ramon Martinez.
Urbina is now in solitary confinement for 14 years in his native Venezuela, while Martinez plays for the Dodgers. But those three players in their only little way gave Utley the chance to shine.
And he did so brightly, no longer part of a platoon with Polanco while getting regular at-bats in the heart of the Phillies order. He finished the season with 28 home runs, 105 runs batted in, 16 stolen bases and a .291 batting average.
He had truly arrived.
Then he went out and backed it up with an even better statistical season, clubbing 32 home runs with 40 doubles, 102 RBI, 15 stolen bases and a .309 average, all leading to an All-Star Game berth and a seventh place finish in the National League MVP voting.
After a year-plus of diamond excellence, the Phillies rewarded Utley in another way -- making him (along with Ryan Howard) the face of the franchise. Bobby Abreu was shipped to the New York Yankees in a deadline deal and Pat Burrell had been dragged through the mud by fans and media alike.
This was now partly Utley's team -- and he planned on leading just the way he played, pushing players toward their best by example. Simply put, Utley would quietly (and with every loud crack of the bat) lead by his play, not by his mouth.
"As far as leadership goes, I’m going to continue to play the way I have," he said. "I think a good leader leads by example."
And as Spring Training quickly races upon Opening Day, Utley has continued his rise to stardom. Granted Grapefruit League stats are meaningless when filling out Cooperstown ballots and deciding season-long individual honors, but Utley's first impression with a new contract in toe is the same as his previous one.
This guy is really good.
He leads the club with six Spring homers and 17 runs batted in while hitting for a .349 average and an astounding .746 slugging percentage.
Such on-field play, culminating in a Silver Slugger Award last season, has afforded Utley certain privileges.
So while baseball is his passion, it's entirely possible fighting global warming is his purpose. And what about a sit down with Gore? Has he earned it?
He's likely good enough.
Tomorrow: Ryan Howard